Published on July 15, 2020

Like sheet-glass bathroom mirrors and granite countertops, espresso-colored kitchen cabinets have seemingly become a go-to move for builders and house flippers, giving them an outdated reputation in the design world. The brown-black hue can make a room feel heavy and gloomy, but there are some definite upsides to the shade if you get it right.

First off, you can easily achieve the espresso color with wood stain—meaning you don’t have to gut your existing cupboards; just reface them. It’s also a great way to introduce earthy tones to a modern space that’s clad in shiny appliances and other metals. When paired with modern lighting and surrounded by funky prints, they give off seriously cool vintage vibes. Here are six spaces that shed their old-fashioned rap.

Combat the Darkness With Breezy Details

Dark brown kitchen with large lanternPin It
Photo courtesy of @louisealvine_

What’s airier than white Corian counters and plaster walls? A Noguchi-style lantern, of course. Louise Alvine’s dark oak lower cabinets (a collaboration between Reform and Note Design Studio) could easily skew heavy, but the crisp white details lend a breezy feel. 

Make Brass Your Metal of Choice

dark kitchen with brass hoodPin It
Photography by Brittany Ambridge

Stainless steel tends to date dark cabinets, but a hit of gold or brass adds an electrifying touch. The maze-like ceiling-mount light fixture in this kitchen from Alexander Design matches the hood, hardware, and barstool legs for a cohesive picture. 

Create Architectural Moments 

arch detail on kitchen cabinetsPin It
Photography by Jean-Marc Wullschleger for Living Agency

A little extra millwork goes a long way with making this hue feel modern. Annick Lestrohan’s extra-tall cabinets feature an eye-catching arch detailing on the doors that match the elongated lines of the range hood. 

Let There Be Light

big kitchen windowPin It
Photography by Lisa Romerein

Espresso cabinets look their best in kitchens with tons of natural light—but you don’t need floor-to-ceiling sliders to achieve it. This sunny spot by the sink brings tons of rays into the space, and the open upper shelving makes for an even airier feeling. 

Add Texture With Brick

brick ktichen backsplash Pin It
Photography Courtesy of Henrybuilt

It might seem counterintuitive to add more brown, but hear us out: Exposed brick, peeping out between open shelving, lends a tactile quality to the plain, flat shade. 

Fool the Eye With Wallpaper

floral wallpaper backsplashPin It
photography by Belle Morizio
To distract from extra-dark cabinets that would have been too expensive to replace, Domino’s executive creative director, Kate Berry, drew the eye away with a botanical Hermès wallpaper. She applied the treatment to MDF panels and then sealed it with glass panels so it’s splatter-resistant. A fresh floral print brightens her NYC apartment right up.

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High-Gloss Kitchen Cabinets May Be the Key to Brightening a Tiny Room

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